Religious Intolerance and Prejudice - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:04 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:04 pm, 17th October 2018

The noble Baroness would, if she stood where I am, see that the next section of my response moves on to that, but I accept the concern she has expressed.

We have had good contributions from Members from across religions. We heard the Hindu position from my noble friend Lord Gadhia, and the Sikh position from the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lord Suri. I accept what the leaders of these faith groups, Guru Nanak and Swami Vivekananda, have said about the importance of plurality, community and so on. The Zoroastrian community was, as always, ably represented by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and we heard a contribution on Roman Catholicism from my noble friend Lord Patten.

Before I talk about universities, I want to comment on the Holocaust memorial. I will not comment on the siting—this is perhaps not the time to do so. However, the case for the memorial is widely accepted and was put powerfully by my noble friends Lord Pickles and Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I agree with her that this is not the sum total of what needs to be done; these issues are not solved by memorials alone. A lot will be affected and influenced by what goes in the Holocaust centre, which will deal also with genocides since the Holocaust.

Before I come on to what unites us, let me deal with the points made on universities. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the balance of freedom of expression and speech is not right in universities at the moment. It has improved under the current leadership, but I accept what she said about the need to involve the Union of Jewish Students and the need for the Department for Education to come forward on this issue. However, have no doubt, the Government are determined that there will be that freedom on campus. That is central to getting the balance that my noble friend Lord Cormack referred to. Here, we are in favour of some action.

What unites us? The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, talked about this being key, and it has to be. Let us take strength from the positive things that are happening in our communities—and a lot is happening, on interfaith in particular. When I first took on this job, I was stunned to find how much is happening. It surprised me and I am sure it would surprise noble Lords. I shall cover some examples in the letter, but I will give one or two examples now. At the Finsbury Park Mosque attack, just over a year ago—that was not the one I referred to earlier; I was referring to the Cricklewood mosque attack—the first people there to comfort their Muslim brothers and sisters were members of the Haredi Jewish community, who knew them well and who lived just down the road. That was surprising enough on its own, but it is an example of some of the strengths present in our communities. It is important that we do not lose sight of these things.